With little fanfare, up to at least 1400 Dunedin schoolchildren have spent time creating Christmas cheer for seniors, despite the Covid challenges.
Their handmade cards come in all colours and are decorated with ribbons, beads, cotton wool, drawings and origami.
The children write messages inside and one, from Thomas, perhaps sums up the sentiment: “Hi special person! Have a jolly wolly Xmas! I hope you have a very nice Xmas! My favourite part of Xmas is making people happy!”
A moving card from a St Hilda’s Collegiate School student says this will be her first Christmas in New Zealand.
“Even though this year has been quite chaotic and unusual with lockdown and everything for many people, I’m still glad that I was able to be here in New Zealand.
“I’m very grateful that I was able to be in here, because I get to spend a Covid-free Xmas while many people overseas don’t get that chance,” she wrote.
The volunteer organisation, Sending Love, usually organises card-making and distribution throughout New Zealand but the Covid-19 pandemic has temporarily halted this in 2020 and 2021.
However, in the southern city, between 1400 and 1500 children’s Christmas cards are being hand-sorted and delivered to local rest homes and residential care facilities.
The Area Coordinator, Lisa Russell, says she’s been overwhelmed by the children’s creativity and thoughtfulness.
In previous years the cards have been particularly for those who don’t have families or who can’t see them.
This year, rest homes have told her many residents can’t be with their families because of the coronavirus situation.
A community effort
Sending Love is a community effort – this year more than 16 Dunedin primary and secondary schools contributed, plus early childhood centres and University of Otago families, staff and international students.
Public libraries used to offer card-writing stations but, because of pandemic precautions, this year only the South Dunedin Library has operated a drop-off site.
Lisa’s two daughters involve their primary school peers in the project. Traditionally, the girls have manned a community market stall so people can write cards but this couldn’t happen this year.
Once all the cards are together, the two youngsters spend hours of their holidays sorting them with their mum.
Sending Love began in Auckland in 2017, when a mother and her son did “100 days of kindness” and befriended an elderly neighbour. This morphed into this volunteer body that organises cards for rest homes throughout the country.
In Dunedin, the Ross Home Activities Supervisor, Michelle Marsh, says that this year, cards and gifts are extra appreciated and residents’ faces “shine” in receiving them.
The Otago Community Hospice and schools in the province have given Christmas cards and all 126 residents will receive one via Sending Love.
“It’s been absolutely wonderful and it’s made so many people so happy, it’s just been incredible, the community’s generosity.”
Michelle says such cards increase the residents’ sense of belonging.
“It just brings so much joy to know that people in the community are thinking of us.”
For many rest homes, the Covid-19 prevention measures have meant wider community involvement isn’t possible on its usual scale.
Michelle says Ross Home usually holds a weekly community sing-a-long, its choir practises and preschoolers visit with their parents.
For 92 years, the Royal Dunedin Male Choir has entertained residents at Christmas. The seniors also join the Opoho Presbyterian Church sing-a-long and go to Operatunity concerts.
None of this has been able to happen. However, people are still showing love and being creative in doing so.
In mid-December, a Dunedin Youth Orchestra quartet played carols for the residents and the sounds of cello and violin filled the air. The young musicians were fully-vaccinated and wore face masks.
A thoughtful-someone dropped off plants growing in old-fashioned cups.
“They were in dainty little China cups with wee saucers.”
The cards and pot plants are treasures, Michelle says.
“We’re thrilled, we’re absolutely thrilled in these uncertain times to have such support from the community, and we hope the day comes soon that we can all join together as one at Ross Home.”
In these uncertain times, it is amazing what sharing love can do.
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